Is Your Big Event Really Worth It? How To Know For Sure.

It’s that time of year when many church leaders find themselves suffering from BIG EVENT fatigue. We’ve barely torn down the Christmas set and  Easter is coming at us like a runaway train. And if you’re like some of the guys I’ve talked to this past month, you often find yourself wondering out loud if it’s worth all of the time, effort and money that it takes to put these events on. This is a great question!

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Unfortunately, it’s also a question that most church leaders hardly ever ask. The reality is that 90+% of all churches that put on big events have no idea whether their events are truly successful or not. They have ‘feelings’ about it one way or the other, but when you press them for specifics, they really don’t know anything for sure. With huge amounts of time, talent and treasure being invested, not knowing is unacceptable. Here are 4 things you must do to have big event success:

1) Be honest about why you are doing it and what you want to accomplish.  Ask any church leader why they are putting on a huge event, and regardless of what other reasons they give you, the main reason is almost always some version of ‘to reach more people.’ A worthy goal to be sure, but it’s rarely that simple. We’re human and must constantly check our motivations to make sure we’re doing things for the right reasons. There can be lots of external pressures (‘…but we always do a big production for this holiday’) and internal pressures (‘…this is my only chance to show what I can really do creatively.’) for us to be wary of.

Assuming we’ve cleared those motivational hurdles, next we must decide what we want to accomplish with the event. It could be to reach more people. It could be more internal as in creating a great and memorable experience for our people to bond over. It might be a stepping stone to grow our creative ministry. Or it could be that we’re trying to recruit and utilize more creative people and this is how we attract them. It could be a hundred other singular things or a combination of many of them. It really doesn’t matter too much what it is, as long as these things are clearly defined ahead of time.

2) Determine what success looks like up front. Once we decide what we’re trying to accomplish and why, it’s time to set some goals. Be specific and be ruthless. And stay away from feelings. Feelings distort reality. They manipulate our perceptions. No room for feelings here. Feelings are the enemy. Facts are our friends.

So how are we going to measure this? What are the facts? If this is all about reaching people (getting them saved, baptized, joining the church, whatever) then how many do we have to reach to justify the cost in time and treasure that we’re investing here? Let’s start with our endgame.

It’s simple math. If success means that your ROI (return on investment) has to be at least 10 families who join your church, then how do you get there? 10 families that join probably means at least 20 families have to come check out your church after the event. And to get 20 to check you out you probably need about 40 new families to attend the event. The exact numbers will be unique to each church based on other factors like geography, demographics, what the event is, etc… And if you have no idea what your trends are, then all the more reason to start tracking this info now so you can make smart and informed decisions in the future.

Figuring all of this out up front without emotion is critical. We must use the brain God gave us. Because inevitably someone is going to say, ‘even if we only reach just one person, isn’t it worth it?’ That’s loser talk. It’s weak. It’s an excuse, something we say to make ourselves feel better when we fail. And worst of all, it’s the wrong question. The question isn’t ‘wasn’t it worth it?’. No, the questions we should be asking after every event is ‘Did we reach our goals? (was it successful) and ‘Is there a better way we could invest that same amount of time, talent and treasure (or less) that would reach even MORE people?’.

3) Don’t let the tail wag the dog. As a former creative and worship arts pastor, it pains me to say this, but the event itself is not the point. The event is simply a means to an end. Your goals, your vision, your mission – that’s what’s important. So once those things are determined, they should dictate a lot about the event itself, what it is, how it’s produced, how it’s marketed, the budget for it, etc… Your event may be the coolest thing ever, but it’s a total waste of time and money if it doesn’t accomplish your goals. Event = tail. Goals = dog.

4) Plan the work and work the plan. In order to track data, you actually have to collect data. I recently talked to an XP whose church put on a Christmas event that reached 40,000 people in their city. I was blown away! I asked him what kind of follow up and results they were seeing and he had NO IDEA! All he could do was guesstimate. Why? Because they did not collect any data from the people who attended the event. An enormous opportunity missed! Don’t let this happen to you. There are two things you’ve got to do.

First, you have to have a very firm plan in place on what information you need to collect, how you are going to collect it, and how you will input it into your system. You may need to recruit some extra office workers to help input it due to volume and the fact that it needs to be done quickly. One of the smartest things I’ve seen a church do is to have a team of volunteers working behind the scenes inputing data while the event is still going on. How blown away do you think those guests were when they had personal emails thanking them for coming less than 24 hours after the event?

Secondly, make sure you have a follow up plan in place. What emails, letters or calls are going to be made and when? What are they going to say? How are we tracking subsequent responses ongoing, weeks, or even months after the event? All of your communication needs to be written out, reviewed and refined ahead of time. And it’s imperative that your system is set up so that you can review any visitor or new member at your church and you can know exactly when they first came and how they got to this point. This information is priceless as you continue to improve and refine your process year after year.

You aren’t going to know right away whether or not the event was truly successful. You’ll know what your attendance was, and if done right you will know how many new people showed up, but the true fruit won’t be known for weeks, months or even longer. You need to be ok with that. Settle in for the long haul. Make the event evaluation part of your monthly reporting all the way up to when you’re deciding whether or not to do a big event again the next year.

We would love to hear from you guys about things you do to make your events successful, lessons you’ve learned, mistakes you’ve made, whatever. Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter, @MarkClement #BigEvent